Of habits and commitment

Eli Szein
09 March 2022

Tell me what your habits are, and I’ll tell you what you’re committed to. The actions that we perform -those which we are or aren’t aware of- basically show us where our interests lie. And when I refer to actions, I mean them in the broader sense: from what we say, to what our morning routines are, to how we walk, to what we think about. How well do you we know ourselves from this perspective?

Yesterday’s Women’s Day made me think about this notion of not being aware of what we do, of how our actions or non-actions affect others, to the point of shaping -altogether- our communities and societies. Sociologists can probably talk about what Pierre Bourdieu referred to as “habitus”, as in, the way a society is, by looking at its habits as a whole. What we are becoming aware of in Argentina -to give an overly simplistic example- is that if the habit of men not speaking up when they listen or see other men doing or saying something against women doesn’t change, gender violence will probably remain the same.  

So, I’ve been thinking to myself. Can we do this individually? Can we ourselves be able to take an ethical stand and take a real look in the mirror as to what are actions we are taking -what our habits are- to shape our communities? Not only in relation to gender, but in relation to everything: race, polarization, poverty, and so forth. Taking this Aristotelian idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, what part are you -we- playing? This, in turn, reminded me of this concept revealed by Argyris when studying behavior at organizations: the difference between espoused theories and theories-in-use.

Espoused theories are the things we say we do, while theories-in-use refer to the things we truly do. What Argyris found by taking an actual look -that is, observing people at their workplaces- was that there was a huge gap between the two. Basically, what we think we do many times differs greatly to what we actually do. Let me say this again: how we think we act in certain situations many times is not what we turn up doing in those same situations. How’s that for self-improvement? Well, it just means we need to take a closer look to override this bias.

Going back to the beginning, maybe a good starting point is asking ourselves: what are we committed to? Write it down on a piece of paper, and then ask: what actions that I do really show that commitment? If we can’t find any, we can ask: what do we think we should be committed to? What are our habits and actions showing us about our real commitments? And what can we do to close that gap? Self-awareness may be a good first step to reach what we believe should be. For real.

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